The UK is making the fight against dementia global by hosting the first G8 summit dedicated to seeking an ambitious level of international coordination and an effective response to tackling the condition.
Prime Minister David Cameron and Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt will use the UK’s 2013 presidency of the G8 to lead coordinated global action against what is fast becoming one of the greatest pressures on families, carers and health systems around the world.
In the UK alone, there are likely to be nearly a million people with the condition by the end of 2020. The government has already begun a national programme of action through the Prime Minister’s Challenge on Dementia, launched in 2011.
Now the UK is looking to spark a world-wide effort by inviting health ministers from G8 countries to a high-level summit in London on 11 December to discuss how they can coordinate efforts and shape an effective international solution to dementia. This includes looking for effective therapies and responses to slow dementia’s impact.
The summit will aim to identify and agree a new international approach to dementia research, to help break down barriers within and between companies, researchers and clinicians and secure a new level of cooperation needed to reach shared goals faster than nations acting alone.
They will draw on the expertise and experience of the OECD, World Health Organisation, industry, national research organisations, key opinion leaders, researchers and physicians.
Secretary of State for Health, Jeremy Hunt said:
“Globally there is a new case of dementia every four seconds, and by 2020 we will see nearly 70 million people living with the condition.
“Dementia requires long-term health and social care support that can be hugely expensive. Currently 70 per cent of the global cost is incurred in medically advanced nations like Western Europe and North America. But nearly 60 per cent of people with the condition live in developing countries. As their populations grow and age, the pressure on their services and budgets will inevitably increase.
“This is a global challenge and one which is set to intensify. While we continue to pursue tomorrow’s cures, it is critical now more than ever to pay serious attention to what we can do to reduce the average number of years living with the condition. The G8 today have a unique chance to come together to help people manage dementia better, lead healthier lives and deliver real improvements in care and substantial economic savings.”
The UK launched a wide-ranging dementia plan on research, care and awareness in 2012 under the Prime Minister’s Dementia Challenge. Most G8 countries also have similarly targeted plans. But the majority of this work and research investment has been led at a national level. Experts believe if countries, biopharmaceutical companies and businesses collaborate more effectively and share information, research and knowledge it could see significant advances and better support for people living with dementia today.
Scale of the problem
Current estimates indicate 35.6 million people worldwide are living with dementia but with the world’s populations ageing, the World Health Organisation estimates that number will nearly double every 20 years, to an estimated 65.7 million in 2030, and 115.4 million in 2050.
Much of the increase will be in developing countries. Already 58 per cent of people with dementia live in developing countries, but by 2050 this will rise to 71 per cent. The fastest growth in the elderly population is taking place in India, and their south Asian and western Pacific neighbours. In China, the burden of dementia seems to be increasing faster than is generally assumed by the international health community.
If dementia care were a country, it would be the world’s 18th largest economy, ranking between Turkey and Indonesia.
If it were a company, it would be the world’s largest by annual revenue exceeding Wal-Mart (US$414 billion) and Exxon Mobil (US$311 billion).
The total estimated worldwide costs of dementia were US$604 billion in 2010. About 70 per cent of the costs occur in Western Europe and North America.
The UK annual funding on dementia research will increase to around £66 million by 2015, while President Obama has committed the US to spending around £360million ($550 million) in dementia research each year. At the same time, the pharmaceutical industry is also investing heavily.
Dementia is a syndrome and refers to the impairment of cognitive brain functions of memory, language, perception and thought. There are many diseases that cause dementia such as Alzheimer’s disease, dementia with Lewy bodies and Parkinson’s Disease-associated dementia. The majority are degenerative but not all, for example, vascular dementia. Dementia is not a single disease.
Dementia progresses from mild cognitive impairment, difficulties organising daily life, to the breakdown of personality, followed by loss self and identity, incontinence, unsteadiness, then confinement to bed and finally death. Knowing this is very distressing for people in the early stages of dementia, as well as for caregivers at the end of their loved ones life.